Tommy, in general, Gogol Bordello seems to be billed more for rather alternative rock inclined events than for world music festivals like Couleur Café here today.
Thomas 'Tommy T' Gobena (bass): "That's not really intentional, but we consider ourselves to be a global rock band, so we fit in at both sides of the spectrum. There are a lot of influences from rock and punk in what we do, so I guess that's why we're often billed at more alternative events, but we've recently played at Womad just the same."
Do you guys adjust your set list accordingly?
Thomas Gobena: "No, we just do our thing regardless of where we are playing. There are so many different elements to our music, from Balkan gipsy music over rock and punk to dub and reggae and now even samba and cumbia, that you can always discover something that suits your taste."
Gogol Bordello is still most often described as being a gipsy-punk band. Eugene (Hütz, vocals, acoustic guitar, red.), being born in the Ukraine obviously brought some eastern European elements to the mix, but do you feel Gogol Bordello is really linked to all these gipsy bands touring around Europe?
Thomas Gobena: "There's no real link, no. If there are gipsy-like influences in our music it's because Eugene was born and raised in the Ukraine and he brought his heritage to the mix. When we just started out the press needed a way to describe what we were doing and they came up with the term "gipsy-punk", but our music has greatly evolved since those early days, so I don't feel that description still applies."
Not too long ago, Eugene moved to Brazil and there are already some Brazilian influences on 'Trans-continental Hustle'.
Thomas Gobena: "Well, we write or compose our songs based on what inspires us at that moment in time, and since Eugene lives in Rio, it's only natural that he's influenced by the sounds and sights around him. I think the number of influences we incorporate in our music will only keep increasing over time."
For 'Trans-continental Hustle' you worked with producer Rick Rubin (American record producer and the co-president of Columbia Records. Along with Russell Simmons, Rubin is the founder of Def Jam Records. With the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C., Rubin helped popularize hip hop music. Rubin has worked with artists as varied as Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, Slipknot, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dixie Chicks, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond, Mick Jagger, Rage Against the Machine, Sheryl Crow, Adele and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In the 1990s and 2000s, he produced the 'American Recordings' albums with Johnny Cash. MTV called him "the most important producer of the last 20 years, red.). How would you describe his input on the album?
Thomas Gobena: "I was actually quite eager to work with someone like Rick Rubin and I paid a lot of attention to what he was doing when we were recording. He has a very methodical way of working when building a song, but at the same time, he's also very instinct driven; he listens and will immediately know if he likes what he's hearing. To trust your instincts like that you really have to be a master at what you are doing."
The different members of Gogol Bordello have widely different backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities. What is the common denominator between you all?
Thomas Gobena: "That's simple: the music! I guess we also share a certain open-mindedness, something you won't always find in a musician; a lot of musicians find a certain niche for themselves and stick with that for the remainder of their careers. What I love in Gogol Bordello is the honest way in which all the band members approach music; everyone in the band tries to give their absolute best all the time."
The Gogol Bordello name is a kind of tribute to the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol (1809 - 1852, red.).
Thomas Gobena: "Yeah, Nikolai Gogol was in great part responsible for bringing Ukrainian culture to the rest of the world through his writings. Eugene being of Ukrainian descent was also inspired by that same idea of spreading our message and music across the rest of the world. Gogol can be put in the same league as Russian greats like Pushkin or Dostoyevsky."
Gogol Bordello is also known for their extravagant stage shows. How much of what you guys do on stage is scripted in advance?
Thomas Gobena: "Well, our shows are not completely random, if that's what you're asking, but they are always completely honest. There's definitely a thought process that goes in our shows; we're not just jamming along and seeing what is going to happen next. If I had to summarize our shows in a couple of words I would say they are an exchange of energy between different musicians. It's much more than us going crazy on stage. Our music is not just party music, there's a message there as well."
In your opinion, could Gogol Bordello have started anywhere else but New York City?
Thomas Gobena: "Probably not. I've travelled quite a bit and I have to say I've seen very few places that resemble New York City; in that city you can basically be anything you want - I think there's even some aliens in the mix there (laughs) - and still you will find your place there. Gogol Bordello could only have come from a place where even the strangest things are easily accepted. New York also has a vibrant music and art scene unequalled anywhere else in the world, so also from a creative point of view it's the ideal place to start a band."